Homework advice used to drive me nuts.
I kept on hearing the same cliches.
It’s like all the advice was written by dreamy teachers hoping they could convince their students to actually give a crap about their homework.
Of course, telling students to work hard is generally a recipe for changing absolutely nothing. If you hate your homework then I’m willing to bet someone’s given you this kind of bad advice.
Doing your homework can be relatively fun. Sure… it may not be what you’re looking to do for fun but it sure doesn’t have to suck.
Homework does not have to take forever. The old stories about “you should spend a half hour (or hour) per class at your grade level” are complete crap. Here is what you really need to know to make studying a much more simple process:
1. The Essential Priority Check
Do you ever complain about how much homework a teacher gives you?
I completely understand the complaint.
Some teachers act as though the student’s life revolves around them (and not the other 5 or 6 teachers they have.) It’s annoying. It comes with a bit of a catch for teachers though.
The more homework that a teacher assigns, the less each piece of the homework is worth.
Let’s say, for example, 20% of your final grade is homework results. If the teacher assigns only 10 homework assignments through the semester, each homework assignment is worth 2% of your grade. That’s relatively substantial. If the teacher assigns 100 homework assignments through the semester (yikes) then it’s worth .2% (1/10 of 2%.) You can miss 5 of those homework assignments before you even lose 1% off your final grade. (If 1% seriously concerns you then you need to check or life priorities or enjoy being a super genius. My guess is: check your life priorities.)
Don’t spend as much time worrying about homework that isn’t worth all that much. If your time could be better spent studying (or slacking off and accepting a point loss) then make sure you know it.
Don’t let unimportant homework cause you too much stress. I’m not saying to completely skip homework that’s not valuable but I’m not saying to never skip it.
2. Time Allocation Produces Optimized Results
How much time are you willing to allocate to homework?
In most high schools, (most, not all) being willing to dedicate an hour of time at night to homework is plenty if you’re using your time efficiently. That is to score high but not perfect grades. Of course, every student will need more or less time based on hundreds of different factors. Don’t count on it being anything in particular.
Know how long you’re willing to work on homework.
You’re human. After hours sitting in a boring classroom, very few students are anxious to do their homework. Accept that and treat yourself fairly with a specific time allocation for homework.
If you commit to 1 hour of homework a night then, if you have homework, you should usually be doing it. If you commit to 1 hour of homework a night then, if you have 2 hours of homework then you should usually only be doing the committed 1 hour.
I know it sounds like blasphemy but it has serious value.
First of all, there are exceptions to skipping homework when you go over the hour. If you can objectively prove that the homework left after the 1 hour will have a noticeable affect on your final grade then consider doing it. That being said, you should be doing your most valuable homework first and your least valuable work last. This should only happen when it feels like teachers are intentionally stacking high-value homework on you at the exact same time. (Also, if you enjoy some particular assignment, don’t be ashamed to go over the hour.)
This one hour (or specific time of your choice) helps you focus on the most efficient and meaningful homework while putting school in perspective. School isn’t life or death. Most assignments are not all that important. This one hour also helps you focus because you are likely scared of not completing all your homework. (If you slack through this hour then you have bigger concerns than what I can help you with in this post.)
3. Home Is Where The Homework Shouldn’t Be
Keep as much of your homework as possible away from your own home.
I know… your home may be awesome.
It may have comfortable seats, computers, and videogames but that’s kind of the problem. Most people have homes filled with piles and piles of distractions. Those distractions make it difficult to even get started with homework.
Homes are the perfect environment to procrastinate.
Try to do homework during school. Not all students have the time for this (usually in a study hall) but if you have the time then this is almost the perfect time to be doing homework. If you can ignore the distractions from the students around you then you can probably get a significant chunk of your homework done before you even get home.
If you’re really committed to this idea then you might stay at a library or in school for another hour after class to get some homework done. If this is a reasonable possibility then I’d recommend it with the obvious additional point; it’s not essential. It’s just helpful.
4. Catch Up And Then You Get The Unbelievable Results
This is a problem I’ve discussed repeatedly in a math context but after a recent conversation with a reader I realized I should probably expand it (to some extent) into all subjects.
When you failed to keep up with good grades early on in your education, you set yourself up to have a more challenging time in the future.
If you’re still not quite sure when to capitalize certain letters or how to understand fractions in high school then you are not in the average student’s position. It’s not good but you can catch back up. It just requires you invest more time to catch up.
If you’re struggling in any particular class but you can’t quite figure out why everything seems hard to understand, there is a very good chance you have a basic information deficit. You need to figure out what you missed and how to figure it out. (On the positive side, now that you’re older and committed to learning these concepts, they’ll go down much easier.)
Doing this can be complicated. That’s why I’d usually recommend a tutor if you can access one. If not, you can work with any of the school’s resources in a similar way.
Try to focus on the concepts that people seem to glaze over that you don’t understand.
It may help to be direct and say that you don’t think you understand something basic about the problems and ask for their help identifying it.
There are other ways of catching up like searching through resources online. These methods are much less efficient than just finding someone to help point out what you don’t get. After you figure out what you don’t understand you can use other resources to master the skill.
5. Destroy Thinkers Block
They always talk about writer’s block but I find that most people suffer from this same problem beyond writing situations.
Sometimes it feels like the only thing you can do is stare at the empty paper.
Every bit of work you do seems ugly and forced.
If you can eliminate thinkers block then you can dramatically decrease the time required to finish your homework.
Remember this: It’s all in your head.
The work your doing doesn’t suck.
It just feels like that.
That’s a good thing. You’re being critical of your own work.
The problem is that you’re taking it too damn far. Criticism should only come after you’ve created something substantial.
If you’re writing an essay, write as if you don’t care if it’s a mediocre or even a bad essay.
Just focus on getting related words onto the paper. As long as the words on the page are increasing, you’re winning. You can focus on the editing process later.
This process leads to a relatively well-written paper from the average writer. It comes out naturally because you actually stay focused on production instead of production and editing.
After completing the essay you can work through the editing process. After the editing process, most of the time, you’ll have an alright essay.
Think in similar terms for all your work. Get it on paper first. Correct it later.
6. Time Track And You Won’t Have A Time Lack
This is a powerful method that should probably not be used on every assignment. It’s another way to prioritize your homework.
When you’re starting a new piece of homework, use a stopwatch and keep track of how long it takes you.
This gives you a clue of how valuable your time is as related to your grade.
If an essay takes you 6 hours but only provides 1% of your grade then you might want to skip that essay (or do a crappy version of it in 1 or 2 hours.)
If you’re doing a math assignment and the first problem takes you 20 minutes and there are 100 similar problems then you should consider whether or not it’s worth doing.
(In general, if it only takes 20 minutes because you’re struggling to do it then you should probably spend some time doing it. If it takes 20 minutes because it’s a slow process that you understand completely then it might be worth skipping.)
7. Start! DAMNIT! START!
Procrastination is the average students biggest enemy.
Before doing homework, it is ridiculously easy to put it off.
“Oh… I’ll do it after this conversation… or this show… or tomorrow night.”
It can become a never-ending push until the homework has to be rushed out of pure necessity.
There are three main ways good students tend to deal with this:
1. They do homework at the same time every single day. That means they never have to think twice about procrastinating. If the time on the clock says work time then they sit down and work immediately. It’s the first priority at that time.
2. They think about the homework and they do it immediately. That means they don’t procrastinate because by the time they consider procrastinating they’re already picking up their textbook and ignoring their text messages.
3. They wait until the last day and then feel guilty about how they screw up everything. Believe it or not: this is a bad method. It can work but it sucks. If you choose to use this strategy, make sure to be willing to give up the time allotment strategy recommended earlier. Also, don’t accidentally use this strategy. Plan to wait until the last day to use it. That leave you feeling less bad about waiting so long.
If you’re not disciplined, it’s much easier to get in a habit to a clock than to force yourself to study randomly through your schedule. Go with option 1.
8. Neatness Is A Sneaky Way To Look Smart
This is one of those sad facts about grading.
Grading is subjective in most subjects.
If the teacher thinks you’re a good student, they’ll tend to give you better grades (of course, sometimes it goes the opposite way if you’re too good.)
If the teacher thinks you’re a bad student, they’ll tend to give you worse grades.
Neatness is one way you can prove to the teacher you actually care about the class.
Students that hand in scribbled in papers for school tend to get crappy grades. Teachers have natural biases against this. They hate it because it makes grading a pain in the butt. If you make your teacher’s life more difficult, consciously or unconsciously they will make your life more difficult.
You don’t need a perfectly neat paper but try to make it look like you actually give a damn.
9. Fail To Do This And Your Grades Will Suffer
Doing your homework with another student can speed up the process. It has advantages. Sometimes teachers actually encourage it. I think, usually, it’s a bit too counterproductive.
Do your homework alone.
Homework is not only about points. (Most of the time.) It’s also about test prep. If you’re working with a partner on your homework then you’re going to lean on the other student as a crutch or they’re going to lean on you. When the test comes, that leaning can’t help anymore. It’s better just to do the work that’s worth doing alone and consider skipping anything that’s not worth doing.
In some ways, you could use partners as a means to completely get the answers for homework that’s not worth doing yourself but quite frankly, most of that homework isn’t worth spending 20 minutes copying someone else’s answers either (on top of the fact that you’re not learning crap.)
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